Review: “The Breakfast Club”
by Anna Madrzyk
Although it’s billed as a comedy, some of the best moments in “The Breakfast Club” aren’t funny.
Filmed in Des Plaines, “The Breakfast Club” is the story of one Saturday in the life of five suburban teenagers serving an all-day detention in the school library. Before the end of the day, the students — a jock, a brain, a “princess,” a punk and a recluse – share some secrets and discover they have more in common than they thought.
It’s being called “The Big Chill” for teenagers, although it doesn’t quite measure up to that comparison. But, like writer/director John Hughes’ previous film, “16 Candles.” this movie is more than just another teen comedy. Some genuinely touching exchanges among the students as they discuss the pains of growing up prove, once again, that the youthful Hughes has a good handle on today’s teenagers.
There are several sensitive performances by the talented young cast, which includes Molly Ringwald, who starred in the recent TV movie “Surviving”; Anthony Michael Hall, the geek in “16 Candles“; Emilio Estevez, the lookalike son of Martin Sheen who starred in the cult movie “Repo Man“; and Ally Sheedy, the strong-willed girlfriend in “War Games.”
With such strong performers, it’s too bad so much of the movie is devoted to the kind of adolescent humor you’ll expect from a teen comedy. There’s flying lunch meal a la “Animal House,” a creepy dean of students who walks out of the bathroom with the paper toilet seat cover still sticking out of his pants and plenty of adolescent sniggering about sex.
Must of the action occurs in the library of the mythical Shermer High School, which is really the shuttered Maine North High School in Des Plaines, where the movie was filmed last year. Filmmakers transformed Maine North’s vast gymnasium into a library with 15,000 books, dummy card catalogs and a papier-mache Henry Moore sculpture.
But the rest of the school, down to the bright red student lockers, still looks the same. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the moving boxes from the Elk Grove Village-based Rothery Storage and Van Co. in the school basement and the bag of Mail’s chocolate chip cookies, made in Wheeling, in one of the students’ lunches.
The five studenis serving out their punishment in the school library are a motley group. Claire (Ringwald) is a spoiled “princess” who brings her sushi lunch in a Stanley Korshak shopping bag. Andy (Estevcz) is a star wrestler who is having trouble living up to his parents’ expectations. Bender (Judd Nelson) is a punk with an abusive family. Brian (Hall) is a clean-cut, straight-A student whom Bender describes as “every parent’s wet dream.” Allison (Ally Sheedy) is a shy, strange girl, hungry for the attention she doesn’t get at home.
The only weak link in the ensemble cast is Nelson. Not only does he look too old to be a high school student, but he overacts in his role as the glib punk. Bender’s bitter monologue about his family life in one of the film’s early scenes is so unbelievable you want him to shut up so the camera will return to the more interesting characters.
The movie also suffers from a script that makes dean of students Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) a complete moron. After reading the students the riot act filled with such insults such as “turd” and “peewee,” he leaves them alone all day to smoke dope as he rifles the district’s personnel files.
The psychoanalzying that occurs among the students is occasionally a bit much, but there are some powerful exchanges as the student laugh, cry, share secrets and talk about the pressures they face — pressures to get A’s in school, to lose their virginity and to hang around only with “cool” people.
But, as the straight-A student asks the most popular girl in class, will they still be friends on Monday? Some of the members of “The Breakfast Club,” at least, probably will.